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Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets

The Rap-Up: Moral victories still matter

Can the undermanned Raptors use what they learned from Saturday’s “moral victory” to get actual victories over the visiting Nets and Mavericks?

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Do you care about moral victories?

On Saturday, the grossly under-manned Toronto Raptors strolled into Atlanta with almost 50% of the team injured/ill and a not-even-close to 50% chance of winning... and still almost came away victorious.

If you didn’t watch the game and were told they lost by 2 in overtime, you’d likely feel some sort of relief that Toronto almost pulled off the upset. Maybe you’d be further encouraged to know there were season-highs from Scottie Barnes, Malachi Flynn, and Thaddeus Young.

Barnes’ performance would be especially eye-catching — not because his aggressiveness had been in question since Pascal Siakam went down with a groin injury — because he fell 1 assist shy of the 6th 30-point triple-double in franchise history (and 4th this calendar year). Flynn’s output had twice the benefit because the Raptors sorely needed any kind of bench production AND it raised his trade value for all you sickos (me included) throwing him into fake trades. Young has really stepped up since Nick Nurse remembered he was on the team scoring in double-figures in 3 of the last 4 games.

All of that doesn’t matter though because all you read/thought about was Scottie not dunking at the end of regulation or Scottie losing AJ Griffin in overtime.

What about the moral victory part? Personally, I was always against moral victories because, for the longest time, they didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. What’s so good about a moral victory if you don’t have enough actual victories to win a title? Well, that changed after 2019!

Now, these moral victories feel relevant because they’re building towards something. Scottie needed a game like Saturday to boost his confidence and, hopefully, get him over the sophomore slump. Malachi needed Saturday, not only to motivate himself to continue working hard but to prove to the coaching staff that he deserves more playing time. Young needed Saturday because when everyone’s healthy he should be the VanVleet of the reserves — leading the group with all of his veteran expertise.

As players start to return to the lineup, the hope is that whatever was learned from these moral victories can be applied and drive Toronto towards another strong playoff run. For now, a two-game week is exactly what the doctor ordered!

November 23 vs Brooklyn Nets

On June 20th, Kyrie Irving and the Nets reached an impasse in contract negotiations. That was the first domino in a now-five-month-long saga in Brooklyn. Markieff Morris calling a player-only meeting and calling out Ben Simmons should be headline news. Markieff Morris calling out Shams’ article about said meeting should be headline news. Yuta Watanabe, who was a late addition to training camp, leading the NBA in 3-point shooting should be headline news.

Instead, all the headlines are on the team’s two superstars. Kevin Durant spoke openly about his trade request, called out Steve Nash’s coaching practices, and basically made fun (intentionally or not) of the lack of star power surrounding him. Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving returned from an 8-game suspension, greeted with a hero’s welcome... by an anti-semitic group.

Everything from the previous two paragraphs (minus the opening sentence) has taken place over the last week. That’s a season’s worth of controversies for any other team. Toronto’s biggest newsmaker is O.G. Anunoby forgetting his Netflix password.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Nic Claxton leads the NBA with a 71.2% FG%.

Whoop-dee-do. Big men that live in the paint lead the NBA in FG% every year. Give me something more fun. Find me a higher number from a more difficult spot.

80%

That’s how efficient Yuta Watanabe has been (16/20) on corner threes this season!

Prediction

The Raptors have a THREE-day rest advantage. Brooklyn will arrive in Toronto less than 24 hours after battling the Sixers in Philadelphia. Granted, Philly will be without Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, and James Harden, but the Nets will still have to play the game and then cross the border overnight while the Raptors have been relaxing at home since the weekend.

The bad news for Toronto is that Irving’s return is only one reason why KD won’t be the focus of Nurse’s defensive tactics. Royce O’Neale and * gulp * Ben Simmons have been playing really well of late. The good news is that the Raptors are 5-0 when playing on Wednesdays. I like that stat more. The Raptors defeat the visiting Nets, 115-110.

November 26 vs Dallas Mavericks

The Raptors and Mavericks each rank in the top 5 in turnover percentage on offense AND defense. That would explain a lot.

The similarities continue as they rank next to each other on offense (Dallas 114.2 points per 100 possessions; Toronto 113.7 points per 100 possessions), and both rank in the top 10 on defense (Dallas 4th; Toronto 9th).

The “how” is where these teams differ.

Dallas’ bench ranks in the top 5 in minutes, points, 3-pointers made, and free throws made. Their bench also ranks 1st in +/-. Christian Wood and Tim Hardaway Jr. lead Dallas’ reserves combining for 28.1 points per game. By comparison, Toronto’s entire bench averages 32.1 points.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Dwight Powell is from Canada while Frank Ntilikina was born in Belgium. The Canadians face the Belgians on Wednesday to kick off their respective World Cups.

Luka Doncic made a name for himself while playing for Real Madrid, guiding the Spanish squad to the 2018 EuroLeague championship while also winning MVP honours. Maxi Kleber was born and raised in Germany. Spain and Germany face each the day after this game.

Ntilikina may have been born in Belgium but his citizenship is French. Josh Green was born in Australia. France plays Australia on Tuesday.

Half the team may be American (the U.S. and Wales played to a draw on Monday) but I imagine their shortest player, Facundo Campazzo (Argentina), will be the loudest World Cup supporter (and possibly the last one to laugh — although I’m sure he wasn’t amused by his side dropping their first match to Saudi Arabia).

If you think I’m trying to paint the picture of a locker room in disarray, then you know me very well.

Prediction

While my desire for a royal rumble in the Mavericks locker room ultimately leading to Dallas’ demise is nothing more than a pipe dream, they still enter Toronto with some concerns. The Mavericks only have 1 road win this season while the Raptors are 6-1 at home (not including the Nets game). Siakam could very well return and exact revenge on the team (but really their home floor) that caused him to miss the last three weeks. Before defeating a Siakam-less Raptors team in Toronto last season, the Mavericks had lost their last 6 straight at Scotiabank/Amalie Arena.

It’s hard to predict who will be healthy by Saturday but I’d imagine Gary Trent Jr. and Chris Boucher should at least return. But someone as special as Luka Doncic requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. Put aside Toronto’s poor record on Saturdays (0-3), the Raptors will have their hands full again. Dallas wins 113-111 but the short-handed Raptors come away with the moral victory.

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Last Week: 3-0

Season Record for Predictions: 13-4

Raptors pull out a thrilling 105-100 victory over the visiting Mavericks

Toronto Raptors vs. Dallas Mavericks: Raps need to weather the storm

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